Why wouldn’t they? Statistically speaking, men make up the bulk of surgeons around the world. In medicine, a profession that exists to serve people of all walks of life, that stereotype holds true for surgery and other specialties but also for medical leadership and academic medicine.
For a number of years, at least half of graduating medical students have been female. Despite this, there is still significant under-representation of women. In Australia, just 12 per cent of surgeons are female and, in my specialty, around 5 to 6 per cent of heart and lung surgeons are female around the world. These are figures that we have been trying to change for quite some time because, well, equality is long overdue.Now we are presented with a reason that should send shock waves through the community. Research has consistently demonstrated that after a heart attack, women have worse survival than men. They get the proper treatment only about half the time and are much more likely to die of their disease. It’s a finding that has not been fully explained by medical differences, implying that there are systems or cognitive errors at play.
Today, research has demonstrated that female patients are much more likely to survive a heart attack if their doctor is also female. In fact, they were two to three times more likely to survive if they were cared for by a woman doctor.
This kind of research isn’t new. When we look at medical research, most participants in clinical studies are male. This means that tried and true medical treatment may only be this way for men and not women. However, we see this trend reversed when women researchers are involved.
Women are widely recognised to receive sub-standard care in a number of illnesses. It seems that doctors have a lot of trouble giving credit to a woman’s symptoms and are more likely to diagnose her with a psychological condition or just old-fashioned hysteria. It’s a trend that costs women their lives.
With research such as this, we need to start asking more questions about how gender impacts the health care we receive. And we need to push even harder to make sure we have equal and diverse representation in our health care workers. It seems like it matters to patients, the reasons we exist in our jobs, to have someone who shares something with them. They may be able to relate, to empathise and see past centuries of bias and misconceptions when it comes to women’s health.
With more “lady surgeons”, the women of the world may just finally get the treatment that they deserve.